Content Warning: Horror imagery
Apple Scented was written and performed by Amanda McColgan with theme music from “Music Box Melody” by DRFX on Freesound.org.
The car sputtered to an anticlimactic stop in the middle of an empty, poorly-paved back road. Henry sighed, turned off the engine, and ran a hand through his short hair. He didn’t know anything about cars and he’d forgotten to renew AAA. Not that that would have helped anyway because apparently he wasn’t getting any service out here.
He got out of the car and gazed down the road. It was an ordinary country lane, one of hundreds snaking through northern Worcester County. Thick woods lined both sides of the road, with old stone walls weaving in and out of the trees.
Though the woods seemed to end abruptly about a hundred feet ahead of his now-smoking car.
Henry squinted, holding a hand up to shield his eyes from the late-afternoon October sun. What was that? He could see that the land opened up and a solid stone wall took over for the haphazard boundaries before it. A wooden sign swung in the breeze and he could barely make out the image of an apple.
Must be an apple orchard. Which would mean that they’d have an office with a phone. With a sigh of relief, Henry checked to make sure he still had his wallet and car keys and began walking toward what he hoped would be his salvation.
The orchard was silent as he walked up the gravel driveway toward the small shop. Henry frowned. It had been at least fifteen years since he’d gone apple picking, but shouldn’t mid-October be peak apple season? Why weren’t there cars spilling out of the lot and excited children munching apples and cider donuts? Were they closed?
No, he could smell the apples on the breeze, tart and fragrant. The shop hours were clearly marked on the door and he was well within operating times. Maybe they were just far enough out into the country that visitors were few and far between.
He walked up the creaky wooden steps and opened the shop door. A bell jingled cheerfully above him as he stepped into the dim room.
Nobody answered and Henry jumped slightly as the door swung shut behind him. He stepped a little further into the shop. Dust particles danced in the beams of light shining through the dirty windows, but the apples filling the old wooden barrels against the walls looked crisp and fresh.
“Hello?” Henry called again.
There was no phone to be seen, but he spotted a back door propped open behind the counter and he made his way toward it. Maybe someone was just having a cigarette break outside and didn’t hear the bell.
“Sorry to bother you,” Henry continued, ducking behind the counter and walking toward the door, “but my car broke down and I don’t have cell service. Do you have a phone I could use to call a tow truck?”
Still no answer. He pushed the door open further and stepped out, surprised to find himself alone. A coffee tin filled with cigarette butts sat on the cement step, but there was still nobody to be seen.
The first row of apple trees was only steps away from him. From here, the smell was stronger and sweeter than it had been in the shop. Henry’s mouth watered, but the temptation to pick an apple was quickly shoved aside as he spotted a building through the trees.
It was maybe a mile away and he could see smoke curling from the chimney. That must be the office, or maybe the farmer’s home. Either way, it had to have a working phone.
Henry stepped off of the cement stair and his work shoes sank into the muddy path. He winced as he pulled them out and began walking into the silent orchard.
The sound of his breathing was magnified by the quiet of his surroundings. Even the wind seemed to be passing silently through the trees, making the apples dance on their branches. Henry walked silently between the rows of trees, his eyes not leaving the house in the distance.
He was just starting to feel the burn in his legs when he also felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He slowed his pace slightly and glanced around. No one was there, but Henry suddenly felt eyes on him as he walked.
“Focus, Henry,” he muttered under his breath, returning to his previous speed.
He tried to keep his breathing steady as he walked, the scent of apples strong on the breeze again. The sound of his breathing, the inhale, exhale as he walked, sounded too loud in his ears.
Then a branch snapped underfoot.
But there were no branches under Henry’s foot to snap.
His breathing was even louder now as Henry gave up all pretense of calm. He began to run, ignoring the pain as his work shoes rubbed against his feet. He couldn’t hear anything except his breathing, but he could feel his pursuer close at hand. He could feel the eyes watching him from the trees, cool and calm as Henry panicked.
He could see the front porch now and he pushed himself to speed up. Another branch cracked and from the corner of his eye, Henry could see the apples fall to the ground as something pushed through the trees.
Henry was panting now, his breath coming in short bursts. But underneath that, there continued a pattern of calm breaths. With a thrill of horror, Henry realized those weren’t his breaths.
The house was just ahead now. He could even hear the sound of a scratchy radio coming from inside as he leapt up onto the porch and began pounding on the door.
“HELP!” Henry screamed, rattling the doorknob in a desperate attempt to open the locked door.
He saw a shadow pass by the window beside him as the sound of clicking footsteps reached the porch. Then the figure reached the door, their shadow lit by the yellow light behind the dingy curtain.
Henry felt his heart rise. “THANK YOU!”
Then, to his sinking horror, he heard a deadbolt slide into place. He tried the doorknob again and now the door stayed even more securely shut.
The footsteps were behind him now. Henry barely had time to turn around.
Its hot breath was apple scented.